Seminar #26: Exploring the continuity between life and mind
The next Life and Mind seminar will take place on Wed., Oct. 17th, 16:30 – 18:00, in room ARUN401.
For the first Life and Mind meeting this term, Ezequiel Di Paolo will be speaking on:
Exploring the continuity between life and mind: or more ways to upset a closet cognitivist.
Enactivism (Varela et al 1991, Thompson, 2007) articulates several major shifts towards embodied cognition in terms of its biological and experiential roots. In order to prosper, enactivism must move beyond its basis on sensorimotor skills into the problems of higher mental function. But before we can solve this problem, we should provide a proper context to deal with it in a naturalistic setting, as opposed to the apparent naturalism (but actual in-depth mysticism) of cognitivism/computationalism in its classic and embodied versions.
I propose that such a context is given by exploring the connections between life and mind. Several key aspects of mind are already present in minimal forms of life, often with such clarity that their study enables us to approach higher forms of cognition in a much more rigorous and disciplined way (in particular, by providing operational definitions and explanations of terms such as values, norms, identity, meaning, autonomy, behaviour, agency, and social interaction, all grounded in dynamical and systemic categories).
This does not mean that there are no jumps and specializations in the history (evolution and development) of cognitive systems. In fact, the enactive paradigm is very much concerned with explaining those jumps (which only make sense as such once we understand the fundamental continuities that remain unaffected by them). What is common to all these transitions is that they involve, through some specific embodied activity, the emergence of novel forms of agency and sense-making. The result is always a new form of cognitive engagement involving increased mediacy between the agent and its cognitive target.
In this talk I will give some rough overview of these ideas, concentrating on the notion of autonomy as a guiding thread.